Not quite a cultural exchange as I supplied all the ale, but it did serve as my drinking partner's first foray into beer reviews. I have to say that I am becoming very enamoured of tasting beers in the company of others and, preferably, trying the same ales at the same time so as to compare notes. We must do this again some time!
First: Slightly Shitty Slow-Brewed Summer Stag, Pete's Piss Brewery. ~4.3% ABV. Summer Ale.
Second: Wild Raven, Thornbridge Brewery. 6.6% ABV. Black IPA.
Third: Wainwright, Thwaites. 4.1% ABV. Pale Golden Ale.
Fourth: Black Sheep Ale, Black Sheep Brewery. 4.4% ABV. Bitter.
Crisp and musty vie for control on opening with heavy and yeasty tones shot through. However, the sad fact is that the aroma is very much a reminder that the ale is mass produced in a way that was simply less obvious with the Wainwright and missing altogether from either my ale or the Thornbridge addition. Why? It is dominated by the added CO2. Taste was rapidly adjudged as being "not as much of an adventure" as Wild Raven by my companion and "not bland, but samey enough to be in the background" by Willow, adding: "sharper than the Wainwright". Our newb added that it was "less yeasty". It was definitely the fizziest of the evening and the taste was weak enough that it was murdered by the mere memory of Wild Raven. I was disappointed as I do love this brewery and really rate their ales, but on the evening this just faded and reminded us that it was totally manufactured with a forgettable after-taste that borders on being 'generic'. It's dark and nutty colour with fine head, alas, promised far more than it could deliver.
Fifth: Business As Usual, Derby Brewing Company. 4.4% ABV. Amber Ale.
This had a smell that was dominated by a mellow malt that almost left us with the sense of Horlicks (helpfully suggested by my companion's wife). The bottle claimed a toffee aroma and there was certainly an edge of that involved. Suffice to say that it wasn't so much a hoppy ale as it was a malty one. It poured with a minimal, almost white cell like, fizz and a businesslike head. From the first sip it was clear that this lacked the industrial level of carbonation seen in Wainwright or Black Sheep Ale and that lemon and lime citrus hops would play a large role. My drinking partner announced it "one of his favourites so far" and joined Willow in pronouncing that the taste was 'fresh' and clear (as one would expect with such sharp hops). Indeed, the hops very much forced the malt into hiding for much of the experience but there was enough to prevent an overpowering souring of the taste. A very strong showing for the last ale of the evening.
In the event, my drinking partner and Willow were unanimous in their praise and choice of Business As Usual as their preferred ale of the evening. For me, I thought it was very good but paled against the Black power of the Wild Raven. We all agreed, with varying degrees of sadness, that the weakest showing was Black Sheep Ale. It was simply up against some of the better ales I have tasted of late and thus out-classed by all but the Wainwright, that had the advantage of being light and spicy.
My happiest moment of this evening was the fact that all present agreed that my ale was good enough to edge into third place. In such august company I think I can safely call my first brewing attempt a success!